California: Are We Back?

April 26, 2013 - 10:00am to 6:00pm
University of California Sacramento Center
1130 K Street, Suite LL22
Sacramento  California  95814
United States

The economy is improving, the state’s finances are better than they have been in years, and polls show Californians are increasingly optimistic about the state’s future. After years of doom and gloom, is the Golden State back on its feet?

For most of its history, California was seen as a beacon of American opportunity. Then an economic nose dive and a dysfunctional political system led plenty of observers to write the state’s obituary. Some said we stopped investing in public infrastructure and providing decent public services. Others said too much taxation and regulation choked the economy. Almost everyone lost confidence in our public leaders and the system they use to govern. But in the last few years, California voters have reformed the political system and pumped new revenue into the public purse. Now, for the first time in years, most Californians say the state is headed in the right direction. Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval rating has topped 50 percent, and most Californians expect the Governor to be able to work with the Legislature to accomplish a lot in the coming year.

So what’s next for California? Have we "fixed" what was wrong? Or is this false confidence, a case of turning a blind eye to real problems that remain? As the state seems poised at a turning point, we look at the future of America’s most important state.

Panel 1

Panel 1: l-r: Amy Chance, Mac Taylor, H.D. Palmer, Tim Gage and Tom Campbell.

Keynote session

Keynote session: l-r: Duf Sundheim, John Myers and John Burton

Panel 2

Panel 2: l-r: Molly Dugan, Mike Villines, Thad Kousser, Trudy Schafer and Mark Paul

Panel 3

Panel 3: l-r: Jane Junn, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Mike Madrid and Judy Lin

All photos by True Love Photo

9:30 a.m. Coffee and continental breakfast

10 a.m. Opening Remarks

  • Jack Citrin, Director, Institute of Governmental Studies

10:15-11:30 a.m.  Money, Money, Money – California’s Fiscal Outlook

For years the state has faced chronic budget shortfalls, resulting in harsh budget cuts, flaky accounting gimmicks, and diminishing public confidence. Then in November, voters approved a tax increase that put the state on a better financial path. The Governor’s proposed budget projects a $1 billion reserve by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, with small operating surpluses after that. Are California’s worst financial problems are behind it? Or are we one economic downturn from more red ink? Are we chasing away businesses and rich people? Or do we need even more revenue for public investments that drive long-term growth? And is the looming cost of public employee pensions the greatest economic issue of all? What is California’s fiscal future, and what should be the public policy response?

  • H.D. Palmer, Deputy Director, California Department of Finance
  • Tom Campbell, Dean of the School of Law and Professor of Economics, Chapman University, and former Director, California Department of Finance
  • Mac Taylor, Legislative Analyst 
  • Tim Gage, Principal and Co-Founder, Blue Sky Consulting Group, and former Director, California Department of Finance
  • Moderator: Amy Chance, Political Editor, Sacramento Bee

11:30 a.m.-Noon Break

Noon-1:30 p.m. Keynote Session -- What’s Next for California Politics?        

  • John Burton, Chair, California Democratic Party
  • Duf Sundheim, former Chair, California Republican Party
  • Moderator: John Myers, Political Editor, KXTV-TV ABC News 10

1:30-1:45 p.m. Break

1:45-3 p.m. Political Reform – We’ve Done a Lot, Do We Need To Do More?

In the last few years, California voters have made major changes to the way we govern ourselves. We adopted a new nonpartisan system of elections, created a citizens’ commission to handle redistricting, altered legislative term limits, and made it easier to pass the state budget. What will these changes mean? Were they enough to create a political system that can govern a 21st Century nation-state like California? Or were they just tinkering at the edges? With their new dominance in Sacramento, should Democrats pursue other changes like alterations to Proposition 13 or a reform of the sales tax? Or does California need even bigger changes, like a larger Legislature or proportional representation?

  • Thad Kousser, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego
  • Mike Villines, Governance Fellow, University of California Sacramento Center
  • Mark Paul, author of California Crack-Up: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It
  • Trudy Schafer, Senior Director for Program, League of Women Voters of California
  • Moderator: Molly Duggan, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Sacramento State University

3-3:15 p.m. Break

3:15-4:30 p.m. California Voters – Is Power Shifting to a Different Kind of Electorate?

For years, California voters haven’t been very much like Californians. The voters were older, whiter, and more conservative. But this year, that may have begun to change. With a huge boost in voter registration – thanks in part to a new online registration system – the electorate was more diverse than ever before. Is this the emergence of a new California, with voters who are more like California as a whole: more ethnically diverse, younger, and even more Democratic? What would that mean for California on issues like taxes and spending, immigration, and even social issues like gay marriage? Politically, what does this new electorate mean for the shrinking Republican Party? Is the state changing in fundamental ways?

  • Karthick Ramakrishnan, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, Riverside
  • Mike Madrid, political consultant
  • Jane Junn, Professor of Political Science, University of Southern California
  • Moderator: Judy Lin, Staff Writer, Associated Press

4:30 p.m.  Closing Remarks

  • Robert Huckfeldt, Director, UC Sacramento Center

4:45-6 p.m. Reception

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